Saturday, December 13, 2003

The weather wasn’t great today, but it was warmer and a lot better than yesterday. Our destination for today was a place called Port Fairy, technically it’s not on the Great Ocean Road as it’s too far West, but Caroline liked the name.

There wasn’t an awful lot to do at Port Fairy, it was a small pretty, coastal town; we had lunch there, I had hot dog and chips, but in my usual style I didn’t eat most of the chips. It wasn’t really worth staying here as there wasn’t much to do and the afternoon was still quite early, so we headed back in an Easterly direction with the intention of staying at a place called Apollo Bay (we stopped there earlier on our trek very briefly), but since the weather had improved again we stopped at a few more places en route.

Most of the stops involved looking at scenic coastlines, or scenic rocks in the sea. One place we had both been advised to visit was a place called Gibson Steps, we had both presumed that this would be some kind of natural occurrence, but it was actually some man-made/carved steps down the side of the cliff to the beach. The steps were… well, steps, but the beach was amazing, the sea was as blue as anything and we paddled in the water; it was really lovely, although Caroline got the bottom of her trousers wet.

When we got to Apollo Bay we were both a little weary since, in total, we had been travelling in the van for almost 6 hours today; we checked into a hostel called, oddly enough, the Apollo Bay Backpackers, it was a very friendly, local kind of hostel.

Since we were weary, we wandered down to the sea front to a café and sat down for a coffee. Before we knew it we got chatting to an Aussie guy called Tim, he was in the RAAF (Royal Australian Air Force) at Adelaide and shared Caroline’s interest in skiing and snow boarding. He was a logistics officer, but after a little probing I discovered that he used to be a pilot until they told him they didn’t want him to fly any more (I didn’t probe further).

Before we knew it the beers were flowing, the music started, Tim was on the pull with Caroline, Caroline was practising her guitar (again), there were loads of people in the café and we were all having a good time. Time passed quickly and by 1am the café was kicking out, Caroline wandered off somewhere with Tim and I ended up going with a bunch of people to a party at some guys house; the chap whose house it was had a stabbed foot and a bruised shoulder, he looked right beat up – I don’t know why. Anyhow, there were lots of young girls at the party and I had a really good time.

By about 3am people were drifting off and I had to try and find my way back to the hostel, it was dark, I was drunk and I didn’t have a clue. Luckily I managed to recall the name of the street it was on and doubly luckily it was the next block up, so I got back OK!

Friday, December 12, 2003

Back on the road today, continuing our Westerly journey along the Great Ocean Road.

We were heading toward one of the main attractions of the Great Ocean Road, the 12 Apostles, these are 12 outcrops of rock in the sea that are supposed to be very scenic. En route we stopped to look at another waterfall called Sheoak Falls, this was very nice, but by now I’m getting to stage where I’m thinking, once you’ve seen one waterfall you’ve seen them all!

In typical Victorian (as in the state, not the era) fashion, the closer we got to the 12 Apostles, the worse the weather got. In fact, by the time we arrived there it was positively blowing a storm and raining like buggery to boot; but being the committed travellers that we are, we braved the elements to see the rocks. They were indeed, an amazing sight and after standing in the rain for 15 minutes we got drenched, my umbrella had turned inside out and broke, so we headed back to the van. Once in the van we performed a complete change of clothes (underwear excepted, of course).

We continued onto our next stop-over, Port Campbell; we managed to get beds in the YHA, which had good facilities (as all YHAs do) and it was quite a friendly place too. We hung about the hostel for a while, I chatted to people, Caroline practised her guitar some more; the hostel provided free soup every evening, so we had a really cheap meal, free soup with bread and butter, it was really tasty!

The plan was to go back to the 12 Apostles to see them at sunset, by now it was getting late and the weather seemed to have calmed down a bit, so we journeyed back out to the Apostles. When we arrived at the car park, following the true law of sod, it started to piss down! So we sat in the van until the elements had abated… again, and wandered down the short path to the viewing area. It was cold, windy and we didn’t get to see a beautiful sunset because it was too cloudy, but the rocks were nice… again.

When we got back to the hostel, Caroline decided to practise her guitar some more and I went out with a small group of people who were on a coach tour to the pub. I only had a couple of pints and got a fairly early night.

Thursday, December 11, 2003

Today being Thursday and Caroline being suitably chuffed from going to the Robbie Williams concert last night, we were set for our Great Ocean Road trip. For reference, the Great Ocean Road is a road that runs along the South coast of Victoria, between Torquay and Warrnambool and is renowned for it’s breathtaking views and natural sightseeing attractions.

We met up at breakfast, checked out, got all our stuff into the van and headed off. I had been given some advice from a nice young girl behind reception about things that we should see that might not be on the usual tourist trail, which I thought was helpful.

Our first stop was Anglesea (yes, LOADS of places in Australia are named after places in England) where I had been advised that we could see Kangaroos in the wild at Anglesea golf course. Lo and behold, the advice was true and there was a big group of Kangaroos hopping around the golf course, which was fun! We grabbed some fish and chips for lunch and sat by the sea to eat them, we were surrounded by seagulls but they didn’t really hassle us too much. They have a fish here called “Flake”, it’s really common, I think it may be their name for cod or something.

Our next stop was a town called Lorne, a coastal town that we were planning to stay overnight at. Before we did anything we decided to organise accommodation; the YHA was completely booked out so we ended up booking into a curious place called the Erskine River Backpackers. I say curious, because to start with it cost $25 a night, which is the most expensive hostel I had ever stayed in and the administration appeared to be quite lackadaisical; the chap looking after it was really, really slow, in a really red neck / on drugs type of way. The beds were OK, although they didn’t provide a sheet, only a blanket (usually you get both); but the building itself was very nice, it had a large colonial style balcony running all the way around it and socially it seemed to be pretty good.

Once we were checked in and got our stuff out of the van, we decided to trek up to a waterfall called Erskine Falls. It was only up the road and although I have already seen quite a lot of waterfalls already, it was actually very scenic and one of the better ones. There appeared to be a trail of sorts, which we decided to wander along, the environment was very rain forest like and it was a fun walk; although after a while it didn’t seem to be going anywhere significant so we turned back (we looked on a map afterwards and it actually went on for miles and miles).

The afternoon being young and the weather being good we decided to plonk on the beach, I grabbed a six-pack of beers from the bottle shop. The original plan was to sit and read, but we ended up talking for ages amidst the perpetual barrage of flies; by now I had begun to appreciate the meaning of the term “Aussie Salute”, you constantly seem to be flicking flys away from your face all the time!

I also discovered a little more about Caroline, she is a strange one. She is 21, but doesn’t behave like a normal 21 year old, she seems a little straight (snogging someone is still a significant gesture) and she behaves like she’s older, a bit of a know-it-all (in the nicest possible way) for someone that’s only 21. She is also mad keen on snow boarding, she has a 1st from Reading Uni in Meteorology and is a Christian. A lovely girl, but quirky none-the-less.

I discovered back at the hostel that she is also learning to play the guitar and is travelling with what looks like a mini-guitar; it has the same size neck and number of strings as a normal guitar, but the boxy bit is really small. Anyway, I came to the conclusion, quite speedily, that she is not particularly good at playing the guitar (but not horrific either) and listening to her practice is not especially entertaining; although having said that she is a very good singer.

I hung out and read a bit at the hostel, Caroline cooked a vegetable stir fry which tasted much nicer than she had described it.

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

I hadn’t realised until late yesterday afternoon, but the bus was picking us up for the tour today at 7:30am, so with the exception of my initial arrival in Sydney when I was suffering from jet lag, this was the earliest I had gotten up since I had been here.

There were 3 of us going altogether, myself, the girl whose name I don’t recall and another chap, who I knew as Phil, but the girl called him Andrew; I don’t actually know whether his name was Phil or Andrew because he didn’t correct either of us, which I thought was a bit silly of him!

It was a bit of a drag having to get up so early, the coach was only about 10 minutes late but all it did was go round picking people up from different hostels in Melbourne (we were the first pick up) and then dropped us at the travel office in the centre of town over an hour later; to be honest we could have walked to the travel office in about 20 minutes!

At the travel office we waited about another 30 minutes before boarding the actual tour coach. The trip itself was split into 2 halves, the morning was going to be spent in the Dandenong ranges, the highlight being a trip on a steam train called “Puffing Billy” and the afternoon going round 3 different vineyards.

To start with we drove into the Dandenongs (national park, mountains and stuff) and stopped at a little café type place to have a bite to eat, a cup of tea and look at some of the aerial wildlife, like Cockatoos and such.

Then we drove over to Puffing Billy, I didn’t realise until we got there but it is actually a public railway service for the Dandenong area, but it was still very touristy! The weather was good and the carriages were open sided, all in all it was good fun in cute, steam trainy sort of way.

After a short coach trip we arrived at our first vineyard, rather unsurprisingly there were fields and fields of grape vines! By now it was about lunchtime and the vineyard had a restaurant, so we sat down and had a bite to eat (I had steak and Guinness pie, not bad) and then onto the wine tasting bit. I didn’t think it was particularly well organised as it was a bit of a free for all at a bar, which was a chore; the wine wasn’t bad, although the reds were very light compared to the reds that I am used to drinking at home. The 3 of us chipped in together and bought a bottle of Shiraz for $15, one of the better wines on offer.

Our experience at the second vineyard, which was just up the road, was much better organised and far more entertaining. We were all seated in what looked like quite a posh dining room and a young girl presented different wines for us to taste, it was very informative and professional. We received a lesson on the correct way to taste and evaluate wine and the actual wines that she was presenting to us were nicer than the first vineyard. Even though it only looked like a small, local vineyard, I was informed that they were actually the fifth largest vineyard in Australia; they have an outlet in Bristol (England) and are called De Bortoli.

Out final vineyard was Domain Chandon, which is one of about half a dozen vineyards around the world that are owned by Moet and Chandon. We received a short tour of the winery itself, which was OK, but quite touristy and then we were sat down and given a free glass of some kind of sparkling wine with bread and cheese. This wasn’t as much fun as the previous vineyard, but I did discover that the letter T in Moet is pronounced; this is because the founding chap in question was Dutch, not French, and the Dutch pronounce the T.

Once again, tonight was rock, paper, scissors night at the Commercial, which of course, I was obliged to attend. Beside drinking beer and losing most of the time there is only one thing of worthy note and that is a girl that I bumped into. Her name was Georgie, but the peculiar thing was that she was born in Harlow, lived most of her life in Bishop’s Stortford and went to the Boys High 6th form; at the end of the evening we had agreed to swap numbers and stuff, but we forgot and I didn’t see her the next morning, but this geographical coincidence aside she was very much an in your face Essex girl and I wasn’t too bothered.

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

In the courtyard just outside my room, some of the people from the hostel are re-tiling the floor in a kind of mosaic effect with tile chips; it’s in the pattern of emblems for different countries and I think it will look pretty cool when it’s done. This morning Annie was working on it and I was awoken by Blondie playing on the stereo; after I had heard Sunday Girl three times I decided that I wasn’t going to get much more sleep and I got up.

I bumped into Chris, one of the guys I was in the pub with last night and we agreed to wander down to Brunswick St and have a fry up. It was the first proper fry up I have had since I have been in Australia and it was a pretty good start to the day!

I had a couple of camera films that needed developing, so after breakfast I took them down the photo shop and then, the weather being lovely again, decided to sit in the park, listen to some music and read a book. I read a weird book called “Let’s hear it for Prendergast!”, it was published in 1970 and was set in Carlton, which was quite local and topical since I was sitting in Carlton Park reading it! It started off like an Aussie version of “Withnail and I”, but as the book went on it got kind of hippy and revolutionary in a very 60’s kind of way, cool, but odd. I don’t know where I acquired the book but it was different.

Later on in the afternoon I pumped into a young girl, whose name I don’t recall. She was suggesting going on a vineyard and wineries tour tomorrow, it sounded quite fun and was only $72, so I agreed to go along.

Later on that evening I had a few jars in the Pump House with Dave and Louise, I didn’t drink too much and it was quite pleasant.

Monday, December 08, 2003

Today was looking like quite a chilled day, I got up fairly late and the weather was really sunny so I thought I’d have a relaxing one. For the most part I spent the day wandering around, I sat in the park and read for a bit and then went into town a bit later on sort a few things out.

Whilst in town I thought it might be a good idea to go and visit Uncle Billy, since I had nothing planned and the weather was really good. I called him up and he said to just come over at any time, so off I set.

Uncle Billy and Auntie Joan live in Carrum, which is close to the coast, in between Dandenong and Frankston. It was really easy to find, when I looked their address up in my Melway it was just a little bit further down the same road that I went to when I got my bull bar fitted.

They live in a small retirement village, which looked quite nice, and they seemed really pleased to see me. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect or what I was going to say, but Uncle Billy, as I discovered, is never short of a few words to say; we got along really well and chatted about all kinds of things. I asked Uncle Billy about his past and about coming to Australia, he also spoke about his upbringing and childhood, which was more interesting than it might sound because, obviously, he’s Nan’s brother, so I got to hear what Nan was like when she was growing up too. Uncle Billy has quite a Victorian, moralistic viewpoint on life (no, he didn’t preach religion to me, in case you were wondering); this is largely due to the fact that his dad was a really strict, old-fashioned Yorkshire man.

Anyway, I got plied with food, biscuits, tea and the like; overall it was very pleasant and I think they enjoyed my visit quite a lot, I said I would come back and see them again at some point, which I probably will.

Oddly enough, Billy is very pro-English and doesn’t really have many good words to say about Australia, which I thought was a bit weird considering that he lives in Australia by choice! I also discovered that Billy’s nickname for Uncle Ben is “Chummy” – don’t ask me why!

Anyway, I drove back to Melbourne and by the time I got back to the hostel it was about 7pm. I bumped into a few people I know in the hostel and we decided to go next door to the Pump House and have a few drinks; I didn’t drink too much and it was a nice ending to a pretty groovy day.

Sunday, December 07, 2003

I was up quite early this morning, probably as a result of the early-ish night I got last night. For once (in the whole time I have been staying at the Nunnery) I was up in time for Sunday morning pancakes (they are free), which was quite novel; Rowan, as part of the work she does for the hostel was also responsible for making the pancakes, she seemed to be a little friendlier to me which was pleasant.

The rest of my day was pretty lazy, I went on the Internet, read a bit, listened to music, etc.

Later in the evening I decided to have a couple of drinks in the Pump House, I recruited Andy and between us we managed to recruit a load more people. It was a nice quiet drink, once again I didn’t drink too much and I acquainted myself with Caroline a little more, since I was probably going to be going on a road trip with her quite shortly.
Aussie Language

Obviously, Aussies speak English, or their own variant of it anyway; but in this article I intend to relate to you some local vernacular that perhaps you could practise at home for the fun of it!

For starters they have some different words for things in general:

peppers (vegetable type) = capsicum
crisps = potato chips

There are a lot more that I don't recall, you may think this all sounds a bit American, but they do call petrol, petrol.

Next is a word that is very local to the youth of rural Victoria:

cool = grouse

Yes, they use the word "grouse" to mean cool, how weird is that?

Other general aussie terms that I have come across include:

Well done old chap! = Good on ya mate!
Really? = Ah yeah? (must be said with a strong rural aussie drawl, as in "aah yeer?")
It's not terrible difficult (after a statement) = Easy as
It doesn't sound difficult (reply to a statement) = Too easy
I agree with you whole heartedly = Too right
I don't believe it! = No fucking way!

And yes, Aussies use the word "mate" all the time!
Thoughts on Tasmania

Tasmania is a lovely state, the scenery and nature there is absolutely amazing; there are mountains, lakes, rivers, beaches, fields, wallabies, tasmanian devils, echidnas and loads more stuff.

However, beside the natural attractions there isn't really much else to do in Tasmania. This is reflected in the general population of the state, most of the locals are either at school or retired; this is because there is so little in Tassie (including good jobs) that most youngsters leave for the mainland when they finish school, Tassie is also very popular as a retirement destination, it is also quite popular as a holiday destination for older mainlanders.

The people are lovely, the towns are remote, the roads are exceptionally twisty and I liked it!